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FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov leaves his desk at the parliament in Sofia, February 4, 2005. REUTERS/Julia Lazarova/File photo


SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's newly appointed interim prime minister has pledged to maintain political stability and continuity as he leads the Balkan country towards a parliamentary election on March 26, its third since 2013.

On Tuesday President Rumen Radev named Ognyan Gerdzhikov, a law professor and former speaker of parliament, to head an interim cabinet following the resignation of Bulgaria's centre-right government late last year.

Under Bulgaria's constitution, the tasks of an interim cabinet are largely limited to preparing the country for elections and ensuring the smooth functioning of the state.

"An interim government at first glance does not have a lot of tasks - its key task is to organise fair elections," Gerdzhikov, 70, told BNT state television late on Tuesday.

"Of course, the state must be run in such a way as to ensure calm. What has been done by those before us must be built on and shortcomings must be tackled," he added.

Gerdzhikov, a respected centrist whose appointment has been welcomed across Bulgaria's political spectrum, officially takes up his post on Friday, when the president dissolves parliament.

The outgoing centre-right government of Boiko Borisov had succeeded in reviving Bulgaria's economy, the poorest in the 28-nation European Union, cutting unemployment to an eight-year low and bringing state finances back into the black.

Data released on Wednesday showed Bulgaria ended 2016 with a fiscal surplus of 1.6 percent of national output, its first such windfall since 2008 when the global financial crisis struck.

Borisov's centre-right GERB party is just ahead of the main opposition Socialists in opinion polls but is again unlikely to secure a stable parliamentary majority, raising the prospect of further political uncertainty that could harm the economy and hamper reforms that Bulgaria sorely needs.

Corruption remains a key obstacle to greater prosperity.

In its annual monitoring report published on Wednesday, the European Commission again criticised Bulgaria's failure to clamp down on graft and organised crime over the past decade and urged the new government to start delivering tangible results.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, writing by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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